Last week, I had the pleasure of attending The Emily Post Institute’s Train The Trainer program for Business Etiquette, and now I am a certified business etiquette expert! You might be thinking “Congratulations! And what the hell is business etiquette, exactly?” Well, allow me to enlighten you.
Etiquette conjures up a lot of connotations for us when we hear the word. Here are just a few of the things my fellow participants listed when we were asked to brainstorm:
Which fork to use
Please & thank you
But as it turns out, etiquette is simply a means of building a relationship. Emily Post herself is quoted as having said something along the lines of “I don’t care which fork you use, just use a fork.” Etiquette is not some rigid code of rules and manners — that's simply a small part of the equation. The two basic principles behind business etiquette are perspective and “the how.”
Perspective is simply trying to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, and considering their point of view. How do they feel? How do they feel about your behavior? A great example is cell phone usage: if you are in a one-on-one conversation and your partner checks his cell phone, you might think him rude. However, upon reflection, you may realize that you have committed the exact same offense, thinking nothing of it at the time.
Also, “the how” matters. There are many ways to handle difficult or challenging situations in the workplace, but it’s HOW you handle it that matters. There may be an easy or impulsive solution to a problem in the office, but the best choice is one that also builds a relationship. If I see someone sneeze into their hand and moments later go to shake mine, I have many choices. I could fib and say “Sorry, I’m not shaking hands today – I have a bad cold.” But then what if my colleague sees me shaking hands with someone else later? Or I could shake hands, and excuse myself shortly thereafter to wash my hands in the restroom, or discreetly use some hand sanitizer. Yes, it might not be the easiest solution in the moment for me, but it is one that builds the relationship.
When keeping these two principles in mind, etiquette becomes a differentiator in business. Strong job skills paired with poor personal skills will only get you so far. Your resume may open doors to get you an interview, but when it comes time to get the job or the promotion, you may find yourself overlooked. Don’t get stuck in etiquette hell and let your personal skills impede you – just keep the two principles above in mind and you’ll always be a step ahead of the competition.
How are your business etiquette skills? Let us know in the comments!